Other Free Encyclopedias » Online Encyclopedia » Encyclopedia - Featured Articles » Contributed Topics from P-T » Richardson, Scovel(1912–1982) - Judge, lawyer, educator, Receives Presidential Appointments, Chronology

Federal Judge and Influential Role Model

richardson york university court

In connection with his new position, Richardson and his family relocated again, this time to New Rochelle, New York, a suburb of New York City. His four daughters were all in their teens, with the eldest, Frances, already following in her father’s footsteps at age sixteen as a pre-law student at American University in Washington. Richardson was an honored alumni guest at events celebrating the ninety-first anniversary of Howard University in March 1958, during which he received a citation from the university in recognition of his career and achievements.

Richardson also became a part of elite Washington and New York social circles, with invitations to such events as a 1959 state dinner at the White House hosted by President and Mrs. Eisenhower, in honor of President and Mrs. Sekou Toure of the newly independent African republic of Guinea. He and his family were often profiled in the society pages of the New York Times and the Washington Post , as well as prominent African American newspapers such as the New York Amsterdam News , the Afro-American (Baltimore), and the Pittsburgh Courier .

Richardson’s work as one of nine judges on the U.S. Customs Court involved ruling on a wide variety of cases related to tariffs and other taxes on products, goods, and other items imported to the United States. One of the most celebrated cases during his early years on the court involved a work by Pablo Picasso, one of the most famous artists of the twentieth century.

In 1960 a three-judge panel from the court, including Richardson, overruled U.S. customs inspectors, who called the Picasso artwork “an article of glass” and levied a duty of 30 percent of its value instead of the 20 percent fee designated for pieces of art. This ruling was consistent with their earlier decision regarding a collage by another artist, Alberto Burri, in November 1958, which inspectors had called a “manufacture of vegetable matter,” according to the New York Times . As a result of that case, New York Senator Jacob K. Javits introduced legislation to amend the Tariff Act of 1930 regarding art objects. This became law in 1959 and further influenced the ruling of Richardson and his colleagues.

Richardson and his wife remained involved in the African American community through organizations such as the Howard University Alumni Club of New York; New York alumni chapter of Kappa Alpha Psi, his college fraternity; and the Northside Center for Child Development in Harlem. In 1961 Richardson was involved in the alumni celebration for his former legal colleague and fellow law school dean, James M. Nabrit Jr., who had become the president of Howard during the previous year. The Richardsons were also involved in a New York reception for the United Nations delegate from Tanganyika, Dr. V. Kyaruzi, and his wife on December 31, 1961.

In 1966 Richardson became the presiding judge of the Third Division of the U.S. Customs Court and continued in this capacity through 1970. In 1968 he was honored again when Howard elected him as chair of the university board of trustees and led the board in the selection process for a new president upon the retirement of Dr. Nabrit. During these years he also was active in the Bar Association of New York City, a trustee of Colgate University, a board member for the National Council on Crime and Delinquency and the National Judicial Commission of the Presbyterian Church, and a director of the New Rochelle Hospital.

Richardson worked to ensure a smooth transition of leadership at Howard, which experienced its fair share of controversy and student unrest in the late 1960s. He supported the interests of the older generation of faculty, alumni, and administrative leadership, who respected and supported Nabrit for his involvement with the NAACP Legal Defense Fund team that won the landmark Brown v. Board of Education case and his leadership of the law school and university.

Nabrit was rightfully lauded for his many achievements and contributions, yet Richardson and the selection committee made a bold choice for his successor in Dr. James E. Cheek, who had experienced great success at Shaw University, an HBCU in Raleigh, North Carolina, after becoming its president at age 31 in 1963. Cheek was viewed as being more attuned to the interests of both younger and older alumni, faculty, and current students interested in seeing the university become even more relevant to the larger African American community. The wisdom of Richardson and the Howard board became evident, as Cheek went on to successful leadership and presidency of the university.

In his primary responsibility as judge on the Customs Court, Richardson continued to issue key rulings on tariff and trade related cases that came before the judicial panels and the court as a whole. As technology imports increased in the 1970s, Richardson and his colleagues came in conflict with the U.S. Treasury Department when the court ruled that tariffs had to be paid by Japanese manufacturers of electronic goods. Their decision had major implications for U.S. trade relationships with Japan, and U.S. pricing practices for Japanese electronic products, while supporting the position that American manufacturers were hurt by the existing trade agreements.

The judicial panel, including Richardson, indicated that not requiring Japanese exporters to pay duties on their products was beyond the scope and intent of the 1930 Tariff Act and ordered the U.S. Treasury Department to estimate percentages of import taxes to be assessed on Japanese products by customs officers. Richardson personally noted, according to the New York Times , that the Treasury Department policy was “in conflict with the decisions of the Supreme Court of the United States construing the countervailing statute, and must yield”, and that the Treasury Secretary “must discharge his responsibilities in accord with the Congressional intent in that statute as interpreted by the Supreme Court.”

On October 31, 1980 the name of the U.S. Customs Court was officially changed to the U.S. Court of International Trade, and Richardson was formally reassigned to his same position on November 1. Despite the name change, his duties were unchanged, and he continued until his death after suffering a heart attack on March 30, 1982 in New Rochelle.

Judge Scovel Richardson was survived by his wife, four daughters, four grandchildren, a brother, Dr. Reuben Richardson, and a sister, Mary Walker. He left a legacy with the federal judiciary and with the HBCUs and other universities where he studied and served, in the African American community, and the nation at large.

Among the many awards and recognitions he received during and after his life, Richardson may very well have been most proud of the Scovel Richardson scholarship, awarded to African American law students by the Mound City Bar Association of St. Louis. Within his family, some of his children followed him into the legal profession and a grandson, John Lawrence Harrisingh, became a Howard graduate, Fordham University law school graduate, and practicing attorney in New York City by the end of the 1980s.

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